To preview this week’s more than 50 hours of motorsports content across the NBC Sports Group platforms, five members of the NBC broadcast family outlined some of the key storylines from Monaco, Indianapolis and Charlotte on a conference call.
Lead Formula One announcer Leigh Diffey and analyst David Hobbs joined from Monaco, where the broadcast team is on site to call this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix (Sunday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBC). Both stressed the importance of qualifying on the narrow, twisty street circuit that at just over 2 miles, is the shortest on the F1 calendar.
“The thing about Monaco, like the Indy 500 – this is the race they all want to win,” Hobbs said. “One of the big problems here is qualifying. It’s so narrow. If you put a wheel over the edge, well the edge is the guardrail. You have to be extremely precise all weekend, as it’s extremely difficult to overtake.”
“It puts a premium on our Saturday qualifying show, because qualifying here generally transitions to a good result,” added Diffey.
Meanwhile from Indy, IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell described some of the challenges he’ll face while racing in this year’s Indianapolis 500. He’ll start 25th Sunday in the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet for KV Racing Technology.
“It’s gonna be fast and furious as everyone tries to refine,” Bell said of the Carb Day practice, which will be live at 11 a.m. ET on Friday on NBCSN. “This one hour is really important to show how you do in traffic. With the freight train of 20-plus cars, there’s a vicious turbulent air. It’s a critical session with pit stop practice and plugging in. I’m looking forward to doing the practice then head to the booth to cover the pit stop competition.”
In Charlotte, Jeff Burton is semi-retired as he balances his analyst hat for NBC’s NASCAR coverage with sporadic starts in the No. 66 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. Burton described the level of all three events and how from a NASCAR standpoint, you’re watching upwards of six hours of open-wheel action during the day before settling into the longest NASCAR race of the year at 600 miles.
“I’m struck by this weekend, because it’s not just three events, but the magnitude is so large,” he said. “It’s funny – with the Indianapolis 500, the end of that happens right as the driver’s meeting for the 600 starts. We’re always wondering, ‘Can we show the end of the 500 during the meeting?’ But then we wouldn’t pay attention!”
NBC Sports Group executive producer Sam Flood also joined the call. A breakdown of all times, channels and streaming for this weekend’s action can be found in this post.
INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a rundown of times and notes from Saturday at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, as all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder had their first day of testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A link to Friday’s notebook is here.
Drivers and teams alike have raved about the pace, and the rather loud sound, of the new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda. Reports from private testing had the new car rather close to Indy Lights pace at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and rather quicker than the old car at Road America. The first tangible evidence of that occurred today as all 10 of the Pro Mazda drivers who got representative laps (second BN Racing car of Leonard Hoogenboom ran only a few laps in session four after engine issues all day) supplanted the Pro Mazda lap record at IMS – 1:22.8800 by Pato O’Ward in 2016 – easily. Oliver Askew’s best time of 1:19.8920 in the second session was nearly a full three seconds quicker on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
Of the 11 Pro Mazda drivers that ran today, only Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin, Kris Wright and Sting Ray Robb ran in the 2017 season. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any or all five of them running full-time in 2018 for what would be each of their second seasons in the championship, as returning sophomores along with what should be a glut of strong rookies. Wright, who also races sports cars, looks poised to add a second program of some other series to a planned Pro Mazda full season.
Megennis is planning to test with other teams in the weeks to come, as he tests for Juncos this week after racing in USF2000 with Pelfrey the last two years. Both he and Robb missed portions of sessions today with new car issues.
Several Indy Lights spins and off-course excursions occurred but none produced any serious issues. Rinus Veekay and Anthony Martin were among those to test the course limits but kept on going unharmed. Veekay had a spin in session three on new tires, then promptly laid down the fastest lap of the session for Belardi later on.
His teammate this weekend, Nico Jamin, wound up with the fastest lap of the day in Indy Lights – although he wasn’t quickest in the cool evening session, the fourth of the day, when most of the field ran some sticker tire runs on their Cooper tires.
Pro Mazda title combatants Victor Franzoni (Juncos) and Anthony Martin (Andretti) made their Indy Lights test debuts. The perpetually happy Franzoni wrote on Instagram, “Awesome day!! We finished the day in P3!! The most import we learned a lot!! Tomorrow will be even better!!” Martin, meanwhile, said this: “It’s obviously a new car – bigger, faster and a lot more downforce, so I’m adapting to it and growing up to it nice and slowly. You don’t want to push yourself too early, so we’re working up to a few things. You have to do things a lot quicker and you have to use a lot more brake pressure.”
In USF2000, it was an excellent day at the office for Pabst Racing with Andres Gutierrez – who impressed in a pair of weekends with DE Force Racing this year – leading three of four sessions, while teammates Hunter McElrea and Lucas Kohl were also in the top-five. Pabst has been busy running cars in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda this weekend.
Beyond Pabst, Newman Wachs Racing also had an excellent day, mainly with sophomore Darren Keane and Californian rookie Jake Craig. Keane, who’s coached by Ozz Negri, led the fourth and final session of the day, and stands as a driver who could make a big leap forward in performance if he secures a full season in 2018.
Another team of note today was BN Racing, with Callan O’Keefe – Keane’s teammate when both drove for Team BENIK at this race weekend last May – second best on the day. The South African is poised to be that team’s lead driver next season. Teammates Elliott Finlayson and Zoey Edenholm are working towards seasons of their own; Finlayson having coming off a recent Super Sweep in SCCA Runoffs competition at IMS last month and Edenholm having only just graduated from karts into cars just this month.
While the USF2000 field was primarily rookie-dominated, two-year series veteran Aaron Telitz made a cameo return today with RJB Motorsports, and brought the ex-ArmsUp chassis its best pace yet in RJB’s hands as the Wisconsinite ran with Mirl Swan and Alex Barron’s crew support. Past RJB driver and two-time Team USA Scholarship, Michai Stephens, was also on site today.
Speaking of ArmsUp, its top rookie from 2017, Devin Wojcik was on hand today making the rounds as well, although wasn’t in a car. He looks to return to USF2000 for a second season in 2018.
USF2000 boasted some good diversity with Pabst, BN, Newman Wachs, Exclusive, Pelfrey, BENIK and RJB teams in the top 10 today, but there’s one notable omission: Cape Motorsports. The seven-time defending champions in the series are not testing in USF2000 this weekend, and has just a single Pro Mazda car on site for Oliver Askew. Granted, the team is also at Circuit of The Americas this weekend for F4 U.S. Championship action, where Kyle Kirkwood has taken that series’ championship. DE Force, which also ran in USF2000 this year, is also not here this weekend as it’s at COTA. ArmsUp isn’t here this weekend either.